Nothing about the Okanogan County commissioners’ recent decision to vacate Three Devils Road makes sense, stands up to reason or indicates concern for ordinary citizens.
It was a bad decision based on faulty reasoning, and possibly illegal.
Worse, the commissioners’ decision was a slap in the face to their constituents, the people they were elected to represent. Instead of listening to the people who would be most affected — many of them negatively, they testified — and accepting the compelling recommendation of the county hearing examiner to keep the road open, commissioners Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy instead took the side of big business (Commissioner Jim DeTro, to his credit, voted against the road closure. We don’t often agree with DeTro, but when he’s right, he’s right.)
To many observers, it looks clear-cut. On one side of the issue were more than 200 people testifying or commenting against the closure because it could create dangerous situations for residents of the Chiliwist area. On the other side was Gamble Land and Timber, which wants the road closed because it abuts the company’s property, which Gamble says might suffer from trespassing and poaching.
If that was a standard for road closure, where would any of us drive?
Gamble’s attorney dismissed the citizen testimony, saying it had no relevance and that public opinion had no place in the decision-making process. Gamble Land has every right to pursue its interests and to expect fair treatment in the process (which it got). But why was it necessary for the company to denigrate the opposition? Sadly, Campbell and Kennedy seemed to agree with the argument that citizen input doesn’t matter.
It seems evident that the hearing examiner made his decision based on the facts of the matter. On the other hand, an attorney for the Chiliwist folks argued that the commissioners’ vote to vacate the road represented a “willful disregard of the facts.” Would that it were the first time the commissioners had acted with similar willfulness.
Unfortunately, we’ve pretty much come to expect that this board of commissioners will often dismiss the concerns of the people who live and work in the Okanogan and Methow valleys, brush aside relevant laws and ignore factual evidence. We’re seeing that again with the relentless effort to open up more county roads to ATVs — another bad idea that is moving ahead on faulty reasoning … and may be illegal.
One of these days it would be refreshing to read a headline in one of the regional newspapers: “Okanogan County Commissioners take action that many people think might actually be legal and based on common sense rather than rigid ideology.” (Many Methow Valley residents would be immediately suspicious that the news came from the popular satirical website, The Onion.)
Instead, we’re again waiting for the courts to sort it out. So it is with the Three Devils Road issue, which will have a hearing this week before a Douglas County Superior Court judge (Okanogan County’s judges have recused themselves).
There is a way that the commissioners could avoid leaving the outcome to the courts: make good decisions in the first place.
— Don Nelson